Friday, March 31, 2006

CA voter registration database, voter fraud and Sequoia in the news

This week brought an interesting and troublesome variety of news stories. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times' Jordan Rau reported in this article about how new voter registration database laws resulting from the Help America Vote Act and an agreement signed by California Secretary of State and the Department of Justice have created a stringent verification process resulting in the blockage of large numbers of new registrations. According to Rau's article, Los Angeles County has seen 43 percent of its new registrations in the past few months rejected in the new system, which requires an exact match of the name provided on the registration card and on a driver's license.

A related issue that is growing more controversial is over the push by some politicians and in several states to require identification at the polls. This commentary by Lorraine C. Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College, examines the claims of widespread voter fraud being made to justify the ID requirement, and finds them lacking. In her piece, Minnite tells how she looked at news coverage over a five-year period in six states with the most leniant voter registration systems and found only eleven cases of reported attempts of voter fraud. Her commentary provides other statistics suggesting that an ID requirement would have a disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color.

And last, but not least, some big news out of Pennsylvania, where Mike Shamos, longtime certification expert for that state recently conducted certification testing of Sequoia's Advantage full-face touchscreen voting machine and vote counting system. These machines are different from the Edge machines used in California, and don't produce a voter-verified paper audit trail. On Monday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published this article by Jerome L. Sherman that discusses Shamos' testing plans as well as his years-old bet to give $10,000 to anyone who can hack into a touch screen voting machine undetected.

It appears that Dr. Shamos may have won his own bet. On Wednesday Tracie Mauriello reported in the Post-Gazette in this article that Dr. Shamos halted the testing on Wednesday after he found that he could tamper with the results. Today's Philadelphia Inquirer also features this story by Jeff Shields and Nancy Petersen, titled "Voting software vulnerable to hackers". Excerpts from both articles are featured below.

(from the Post-Gazette)

Dr. Shamos encountered yesterday's problem during a test for vote tampering. In an instant, he said, he was able to transform a handful of votes into thousands.

Developers quickly fixed the problem by replacing a file in the tabulation software, but that didn't alleviate Dr. Shamos' concerns. A malicious hacker could easily make the same switch, allowing votes to be changed, he said.

"What control is there over the software package if different files can be swapped in and out?" he asked.

Also yesterday, Dr. Shamos uncovered a series of unusual error messages and a fluke that causes the program to shut down when the "print" button is used.

A day earlier, he detected a problem transferring data between voting machines and the tabulation software. That problem has since been fixed.

Larry Tonelli, Sequoia's state manager for Pennsylvania and New York, said he was confident the latest problem can be resolved, too.

"We know the hardware is fine. It's been out there for eight or nine years so we're moving ahead with training and shipping machines [to Allegheny County]. The software doesn't need to work until just before the election so we've got time. It's no big deal," he said.

(from the Philadelphia Inquirer)

The problem arose not in individual voting machines, but in a central control unit that compiles votes from each precinct.

Michael Shamos, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in an interview he was able to hack in and change totals during a state test. The machines are also being purchased by Allegheny County.

"I found that by altering one file I could change vote totals from 10 to over 8,000," he said. "It easily let me do that, so the security mechanisms associated with county central are deficient."

In another test involving a referendum question, the system would not allow a "no" vote.

"I told them to do a comprehensive fix and a comprehensive test and come back in two weeks," he said. "If they fix it, we can distribute one copy to Allegheny County and one copy to Montgomery County and we're good to go."

Allegheny is buying 2,800 machines, and Montgomery is upgrading software in its existing 1,050 machines. There are no problems with the machines that are in each precinct, he said.

Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoma for Sequoia, said the company, based in California, was confident the software would pass a second test. She said the environment in which Shamos encountered problems was not a typical voting situation.

"Someone had full, unfettered access to the voting software, which would not be the case in an actual election," Shafer said.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

County voting plans come into focus at Prop. 41 board meeting

Yesterday I attended the California Voting Modernization Board (VMB) meeting at the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento. This board was established through Prop. 41, which voters passed in 2002 to provide counties with money to upgrade their voting equipment.

Many of the early funding awards made by the board were for counties to use all electronic voting equipment in polling places, and the amounts were huge. It was quite a contrast yesterday. Several counties that received funding approval yesterday are not using the full amount of Prop. 41 money they are entitled to, and of the seven on the agenda, all but one is using their funds to pay for paper-based voting systems. For three counties, this includes the Automark, a paper-based assistive voting device marketed by ES&S.

There has been a lot of pressure for counties to go all-electronic -- from vendors, from the large amounts of state and federal funds made available, and most recently, from the looming Help America Vote Act deadline requiring any HAVA funds spent after January 1, 2007 to be used solely for equipment that is accessible to all voters. It could not be used to support voting machinery, such as in-precinct optical scans for paper-based systems that help reduce paper-ballot marking errors like overvotes.

There are administrative concerns as well. The one county on the agenda that has gone all-electronic was Inyo, which purchased 45 Sequoia Edge electronic voting machines and 56 VeriVote paper trail printers. VMB staffer Jana Lean reported that the county only considered DREs for polling places and that it would be too complicated for pollworkers to use different systems.

But there are a number of California counties that have held on to paper voting systems and are retaining them even though have access to funds to buy more equipment. Many of the counties are upgrading to in-precinct optical scan voting systems, and ballots will be scanned at the precinct so that voters have an opportunity to correct mistakes.

None of the counties up on the agenda yesterday are planning to purchase more than one assistive device per polling place. The issue of how many assistive devices are needed at polling places has come up lately, especially in Alameda County, where the acting registrar of voters is pressing to have two electronic voting machines per polling place. Although this would be a reduction over what Alameda has previously had, which is all-electronic, it still strikes many as excessive.

I took a look recently at Sacramento County's experience using ES&S Automarks in about a third of its polling places last November. Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine reported to the California Senate at a February hearing that nearly 1,000 votes were cast on the Automarks across the county. Any voter who wanted to use the Automark could do so, and pollworkers said that many wanted to try it out because it was new. By my estimates, if the Automark had been available in all Sacramento polling places, ballots cast using these devices would have accounted for about 1.6 percent of all the ballots cast at the polls (and this is even in the case where all voters, and not just those with disabilities, are allowed to use it). It's fair to assume that the percentage of assistive-device ballots that will be cast in most counties will amount to no more than one or two percent of all the polling place ballots.

Most county registrars already know this. And, regardless of the percentage of users, providing all voters the ability to cast a secret ballot without assistance is not only a desired goal, but also a federal and state mandate.

But the statistics from Sacramento bear out the fact that one device per polling place ought to be sufficient to meet accessibility needs. It turns out there may be another reason why Alameda and some other Diebold counties may want two electronic voting machines per polling place. The way Diebold's electronic balloting is currently designed and certified requires two TSx machines to function -- one to program the ballot activation card, and another for casting the votes.

The counties going with Diebold who were on the agenda yesterday include El Dorado and Sierra, which is the second-smallest county in the state and is doing all-mail balloting this June. As for El Dorado, it's unclear how many TSx machines or what extra Diebold equipment might be necessary for the accessible units to operate. El Dorado, like Alameda, is planning to lease TSx machines from San Diego County, which purchased 10,000 of them back in 2004 but does not plan to go all-electronic this June.

San Luis Obispo County has taken on the added challenge of using equipment from two different vendors -- Diebold for in-precinct optical scan paper balloting, and ES&S Automarks for accessibility. I asked the county's registrar before the meeting about whether she'd managed to get Diebold to cooperate with ES&S in her county, since I have read reports from other states that Diebold has objected to combining its equipment with other vendors. The answer was no, and the plan is that if San Luis Obispo can't machine-count the Automark paper ballots they will count them by hand.

Overall, there continues to be a fair amount of uncertainty going forward in California as we move toward voting systems that are both secure and accessible. But headway is definitely being made. More details about county plans are included in the staff reports available on the VMB site.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Diebold in the spotlight - again - as counties make plans for the upcoming election

This week's LA City Beat features this article by reporter and author Andrew Gumbel, highlighting Leon County, FL election supervisor Ion Sancho's courageous efforts to ensure secure voting in his county. Sancho made national news late last year when he allowed Finnish computer programmer Harri Hursti to attempt a hack of Diebold's optical scan voting system. Hursti's attempts worked, leaving Sancho and many others deeply concerned about voting system security.

The Hursti hack in Leon County was followed by a review of some of Diebold's voting system software by California's Voting System Technology Assessment Advisory Board (VSTAAB). That committee found sixteen new software problems with the Diebold software they inspected, and recommended procedures that, if carefully implemented, they said could mitigate the vulnerabilities. Secretary McPherson certified Diebold's newest voting system with conditions based on the VSTAAB report.

Meanwhile, over in San Joaquin County, Registrar of Voters and Diebold customer Debbie Hench engaged in some revisionist history this week when she told her local newspaper, the Stockton Record, in this article by Greg Kane, that "The state tested this system seven ways to Sunday. They didn't find anything wrong." Nothing could be further from the truth. While it can certainly be debated whether the conditions Secretary McPherson placed on Diebold's system are sufficient, there is no question that the conditions were imposed in the first place due to security concerns identified by the VSTAAB group.

Several Diebold counties are pulling back on their acquisition of new equipment from their current vendor. According to this article by Rebecca Bender of the Eureka Reporter, Humboldt County is now planning to use the Vote-PAD, a non-technical assistive device that Yolo county has also selected to meet the federal accessibility requirement. Up until recently, the game plan in Humboldt was to place one Diebold TSx machine per polling place to comply with the federal law. And next door, in Mendocino County, registrar of voters Marsha Wharf this week said she has consolidated her county's polling places so that more than half the voters will now reside in mail-in precincts, which will drastically reduce the number of accessible units the county needs. According to this article by Mike Adair in The Willits News, "Wharf said approximately 21,700 people in the county will be able to vote at polling places, while another 26,475 will have no other option than to mail their ballots. The 171 precincts that will vote by mail all have fewer than 250 registered voters, she added. All precincts with more than 250 people will provide polling places."

Humboldt and Mendocino are two of the eighteen counties named as defendents in the Voter Action lawsuit filed this week. But even before the lawsuit, several of the counties currently using Diebold equipment were already moving to reduce their reliance on Diebold products, and some have switched or are switching to entirely different vendors. According to documents available from the Voting Modernization Board's web site, Fresno County is switching from Diebold to ES&S, Tulare County is switching from Diebold to Sequoia, and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are going to use the ES&S Automark rather than the Diebold TSx to comply with the federal accessibility law.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New CA Lawsuit Against Diebold's Electronic Voting Machines

Today the nonprofit group Voter Action filed a lawsuit against California's Secretary of State Bruce McPherson as well as eighteen counties for certifying and using voting equipment made by Diebold. The lead attorney on the lawsuit is Lowell Finley, who previously brought a successful case against Diebold on behalf of Bev Harris and Jim March of Black Box Voting. That case was joined by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Alameda County, and settled out of court for $2.6 million. (See my November 11, 2004 blog entry for details on the settlement).

Given Mr. Finley's track record, it's worthwhile to pay attention to his claims, which include that the equipment in question, the Diebold TSX electronic voting machine (with voter-verified paper audit trail printer) does not adequately meet the needs of disabled voters, nor does it meet the current, 2002 federal voting system standards, which prohibit the use of interpreted code in voting equipment software.

Other compelling claims include one that the voter-verified paper record produced by the the TSx cannot fulfill the demands of California's one percent manual count law, which is designed to publicly verify the accuracy of software vote counts, and another that counties are circumventing the one percent rule by omitting absentee and early-voting ballots in the manual count. Voter Action has provided the legal documents filed today on its web site. See this AP story by David Kravets for more details. Excerpts are featured below.


The group Voter Action filed the lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court alleging that Diebold's touchscreen voting machines lack adequate security and aren't easily used by the disabled.

Machines made by Diebold Election Systems, based in Allen, Texas, are slated to be used in as many as 18 of California's 52 counties this November.

"We can't have trustworthy elections with Diebold's touch-screen voting machines," said Lowell Finley, an attorney representing about a dozen voters. "They are easily hacked."

Last month, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson gave conditional approval to use the disputed voting machine - the AccuVote-TSX.

The Secretary of State's office said in December that the Diebold machines failed one of the 10 criteria he established for voting machines because the source coding, or computer language, on their memory cards was not reviewed by independent investigators.

But McPherson authorized the machines as long as counties take security precautions, including keeping a written log of who has control of the machines' memory cards.

McPherson spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns said the devices "are safe for use."

Diebold spokesman David Bear said there are 50,000 of the disputed models used in Utah, Mississippi, California and "a spattering of other states."

"The system has been thoroughly tested," Bear said.

Diebold is one of four electronic voting companies McPherson has allowed to operate in California.

State Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee, said, "The secretary of state gave Diebold the green light to sell its machines in this state even though its machines don't meet the standards we put into law."

No court date has been set for the lawsuit.

The suit names the counties of Alameda, Fresno, Humbolt, Kern, Lassen, Los Angeles, Marin, Mendocino, Modoc, Placer, Plumas, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Siskiyou, Trinity and Tulare.

The case is Holder v. McPherson, 06-506171.

Sequoia Touchscreen with Paper Trail Certified, With Conditions

Yesterday California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson announced that he has certified voting equipment manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems. The equipment includes Sequoia's electronic voting machine with a voter-verified paper audit trail printer, which is designed to satisfy both the federal accessibility and state security laws.

As reported today in the Oakland Tribune, it is uncertain whether counties will purchase the newly certified equipment before the June 6 California Primary election. According to the article, Sequoia has "informed many counties that it needs three or more months to deliver after a sale."

A few counties that owned earlier models of Sequoia's touchscreens without the paper trail printer will need to either use paper ballots in June, modify their existing equipment with a printer unit, or purchase entirely new machines before the June Primary. Riverside County chose the last option, and has already taken delivery of the new equipment. In Shasta, however, the registrar of voters put her board of supervisors on notice a few weeks back that she may fail to comply with the state paper trail law.

Like the recent Diebold certification, Sequoia's came with conditions, many of which focus on the physical security of the removable memory card used in both vendors' electronic voting machines. There are new questions being raised, however, about whether these kinds of measures are adequate. Harri Hursti, the finish computer programmer who exposed security weaknesses in Diebold's optical scan voting system, recently traveled to Utah to take a close look at Diebold's latest electronic voting machine, the TSx. Access to the TSx was granted to Mr. Hursti by Emery County Clerk Bruce Funk. More details about this developing story are available from Bev Harris' Black Box Voting web site.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Alameda supervisors vote 3-2 to move forward on new voting equipment

Yesterday the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to grant their acting county registrar, Elaine Ginnold, permission to move forward on contract negotiations with two potential voting equipment vendors. The board members expressed reluctance to move forward and several wanted to consider options other than those presented by the registrar. But after a four-hour public meeting Monday night and more than an hour spent on this item during yesterday's weekly hearing, they went with the registrar's recommendation.

Ms. Ginnold wants the county to purchase two touchscreens per polling place for accessibility needs (despite the fact that federal law only requires there be one machine). When board members asked her if they could purchase a minimal amount of equipment for this year's election and delay making a large purchase at this time, Ms. Ginnold informed them that the Help America Vote Act requires that everything purchased after January 1, 2007, must be accessible. This was not an accurate description of the law, and is the second time I'm aware of that Ms. Ginnold has misled her board of supervisors about their equipment options. (The first instance was at the June 2005 hearing when she erroneously told her board that going with paper ballots and a limited number of touchscreens in each polling place could create an equal protection problem. See my June 29, 2005 blog entry for more details.)

Several supervisors commended the activists who attended the meeting for bringing important issues to light. They also made it clear that their decision yesterday is not final, since the results of the next round of negotiations will have to come back to the board for consideration and possible approval. Audio webcasts of Monday and Tuesday's meetings are available from the county's web site. More coverage of yesterday's hearing is featured in this article by Ian Hoffman in today's Oakland Tribune. Excerpts are featured below.


Four years after buying new Diebold voting machines for $12 million, Alameda County is headed back into the market to negotiate for up to $17.8 million in new voting machinery.

With an impassioned debate spanning two days, county supervisors anguished over sagging public confidence in voting and uncertainty in the technology, then found themselves divided over how to handle elections for coming years.

"This is not the purchasing of a new vehicle fleet," board President Keith Carson said. "This is fundamental to all the rights of every citizen in the county."

"There's too many unknown things," Supervisor Gail Steele said. "This $17 million is a huge amount of money with the uncertainty that we have."

But when the county's elections chief warned that delays could trigger new federal requirements and force the county into filling its polling places with more electronic voting equipment, Alice Lai-Bitker joined supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty in pressing ahead with the purchase negotiations.

"There's a consequence to waiting," Acting Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold said. "If we're going to change voting systems, we have to change now so we can train voters and workers."

County elections and contracts officials will negotiate with Allen, Texas-based Diebold Election Systems Inc. and Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems, the two voting-machine makers rated highest by a panel of voting advocates, residents and county officials.

The winning company would provide a system that principally handles paper ballots with optical ballot scanners plus two ATM-like touch-screen voting machines in each polling place like those the county uses now, the latter to meet federal mandates for handicapped-accessible voting equipment. The touch screens would print a backup record of the electronic ballot for voters to check and elections workers to use in recounts.

The decision marks a turning point for Alameda County and a noteworthy moment in the national debate over voting technology. Federal voting-reform law passed after the 2000 election debacle in Florida requires all U.S. counties to buy accessible voting equipment, and the machines that most easily accommodate the broadest array of disabled voters are highly computerized.

Yet the migration to fully computerized voting, fueled with billions in federal grant dollars, has collided with concern over vote manipulation and computer breakdowns.


In June, for the first time in four years, the overwhelming majority of ballots cast in Alameda County will be on paper, and while Diebold remains highly rated as a vendor, its local political stock is low.

"I'm not supportive of Diebold, especially given all the problems that they continue to have," Carson said.

Steele, who led the board in buying the Diebold touch screens, now has her doubts and voted against negotiating for the new machines.

"I like voting on a touch screen, and I believe technologically speaking that we can get to a place where it can be made secure," she said.

For now, however, "I am persuaded that these people have not got a good system in place. The technology's not right."

On Monday night and again Tuesday, electronic-voting critics urged the county supervisors to hold off and instead conduct a cost-benefit study of all voting technologies, including hand-counted paper ballots.

"How could you even consider Diebold? Diebold is well-known (to be) partisan," said activist Phoebe Sorgen. "It's a $17.8 million scam. Please say no to the machines that count our ballots in secret."

Ginnold, the elections chief, said that if the county fails to buy its planned "hybrid" system of mostly optical scanners by January, the federal Help America Vote Act would require that any new system be fully accessible to disabled voters. In general, that would mean every machine in every polling place would have to be a touch screen, she said.

What the law actually says is that after January 2007, no federal funds may be used to purchase new voting systems that are not fully accessible to disabled voters.

"That statement took some options off the table that several supervisors wanted to consider," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "This board in Alameda has put more into trying to understand this issue than any other board in the state. They asked good questions, and I'm not convinced they got good answers."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More news on the case against Diebold whistleblower

Yesterday's Oakland Tribune features this article by Ian Hoffman about Stephen Heller, the former employee of Diebold's law firm, Jones Day. Mr. Heller leaked Diebold's legal documents to the Oakland Tribune in 2004, and he is now being prosecuted by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley. Excerpts from the article are featured below.


One night early in 2004, a few weeks before the presidential primary, a Van Nuys actor making ends meet temping as a word processor listened on headphones as a young lawyer laid out a defense for Diebold Election Systems Inc.'s use of unapproved voting software in Alameda County.

Sitting at a computer terminal on the 45th floor of a Los Angeles skyscraper, Steve Heller transcribed the lawyer's taped memo suggesting that Diebold could claim the software was a new, "experimental" voting system, even though it had handled two Alameda County elections in 2003.

Heller led a quiet life in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, dog and an occasional supporting role in film, TV or commercials, usually cast as someone's neighbor or dad, which is what he looks like. He was an "experienced and competent" word processor but no "heavyweight" in the eyes of his night-shift supervisor, who doubted Heller knew his computer commands were recorded.

Heller is a self-confessed "news junkie." In an interview, he declined to talk about the case but said, "I would not describe myself at all as an activist" on electronic voting or anything else.

Yet the night after hearing the Diebold defense proposal, according to investigators who recreated his actions from computer logs, Heller went back to work inside the word processing center at the law firm Jones Day and began printing every document he could access that its attorneys had created for Diebold - 107 memos, charts, actions plans and e-mails.

One memo warned that Diebold could be prosecuted for illegally handling votes on Election Day. In a draft letter, Jones Day attorneys studiously avoided telling California elections officials of Diebold changes in a voting system component that ended up failing in presidential elections. In one e-mail, Jones Day advised Diebold of the need for sweeping civil and criminal defenses, billed at up to $450,000 a month.

In a meeting in a Ventura County park, the documents landed in the hands of Diebold's most vociferous critics at From there, some were faxed to a documentary filmmaker for attempted hand-delivery to then-California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley in Manhattan.

The Oakland Tribune reported on the memos, and almost overnight they appeared on Web sites from Washington to California to New Zealand, then elsewhere. Two weeks later, Shelley withdrew his earlier approval of Diebold's flagship touchscreen voting system, calling the firm's behavior "fraudulent" and "despicable." It took more than two years and numerous improvements before Diebold again could sell its electronic-voting products in California.

Heller himself remained largely unknown until two weeks ago when the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office charged him with a computer crime, second-degree burglary and receiving stolen goods — offenses carrying up to four years in prison - and propelled him to folk hero status among voting reform advocates, computer scientists and critics of electronic voting.

The case poses the value of whistleblowing about an industry that zealously guards its secrets and counts the nation's vote against a bedrock principle of the legal profession, the sanctity of confidentiality that allows clients to share their troubles with their lawyer.

Publication of Jones Day's confidential Diebold work, firm lawyers told investigators, was "a grievous violation" that damaged a top 25 client worth millions of dollars a year in billings.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and some leaders of the Association of Computer Machinists, the nation's oldest group of computer engineers and scientists, are seeking pro-bono defense for Heller.

"He found evidence that the problems that people were complaining about, and that Diebold was belittling, were real and that Diebold was skirting the rules," said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn.

"I think people are really heartsick," she said. "This is a guy who the people of California should be thanking and yet he's facing litigation titled 'People vs. Heller.'"

Protest e-mails and phone calls have been pouring into the offices of the Los Angeles district attorney, most of them from outside California.


Officials at the district attorney's office say Heller has no criminal record and probably would get probation if convicted. But he would lose his right to vote.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hart Intercivic eSlate with paper trail is certified

Last Friday, Secretary of State Bruce McPherson issued this news release announcing that he has certified Hart InterCivic's eSlate voting system. The upgraded machine, which previously has been used in Orange County, now comes with a printer that produces a voter-verified paper audit trail as required by state law.

The news release did not provide much detail about the Hart certification, but it does only mention the eSlate, Hart's electronic voting machine. Another system Hart had up for certification in California is a new version of its paper-based optical scan voting system, called eScan. The Secretary of State's staff reported it did not do well in testing and did not recommend it for certification.

I took a look at Tarrant County, Texas' election web site and found this page which says that the county did in fact just switch to the eScan system for paper balloting in the most recent election where the final vote count was initially off by a reported 100,000 votes (more details are in the blog entry below). The folks in Texas trying to figure out what went wrong might benefit from reading the California Secretary of State's staff report on the Hart system, which summarizes the problems encountered during the volume test on the eScan, which is an in-precinct ballot scanner. The report states that of the 50 eScans tested, "42 percent of the machines experienced an error condition at least once that could not be handled by the operating system and required the eScan to be rebooted."

For those keeping track, this brings to three the number of vendors with California-certified voting systems that meet both the federal accessibility and state voter-verified paper audit trail requirement: Diebold (the TSx was recently granted conditional certification); ES&S (manufacturer of the Automark, an accessible paper-ballot marking device); and Hart. Sequoia's application for full certification is still pending (their equipment is currently conditionally-certified and cannot yet be legally used in a California primary election).

Lessons to learn from Tarrant County, Texas

A computer glitch in Tarrant County, Texas has fouled up election results and raised doubts about the integrity of the vote, according to this article by Max Baker of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. County election officials said a computer programming error caused some votes to be counted multiple times. Now some candidates want to see a recount, but some of the ballots cast were electronic, with no voter-verified paper backup (it's not required yet it Texas), and ultimately figuring out what went wrong will depend on what the Texas-based manufacturer of the equipment, Hart Intercivic, says went wrong. Excerpts from the Star-Telegram story are featured below.


Tarrant County officials expect to decide by early next week whether to conduct a full recount of Tuesday's primary ballots because of questions about a computer glitch that not only inflated turnout numbers but may also have changed the outcome of some races.

Stephanie Klick, the Tarrant County Republican Party chairwoman, said party officials are reviewing the state election code while considering whether to ask for a recount or challenge the final tabulations in court.


Gayle Hamilton, the county's interim elections administrator, said she has been talking to the district attorney's office and the secretary of state's office about the best way to verify the election results.

"I'm not in a position to say how it's going to be handled yet," Hamilton said. "We want voters and the candidates to feel confident that all of the ballots were cast properly and counted."


County election officials said that because of a computer programming error, some votes were counted multiple times. That boosted the final tally in both primaries by as much as 100,000.

On Wednesday, officials said the error shouldn't alter the outcome of any race. But Klick said the two top vote-getters in the race for the 324th District Court traded places when the last count was released.

Late Tuesday, former state District Judge Paul Enlow was in the lead in the three-way race. By Wednesday, Associate Judge Jerry Hennigan was the leader. Enlow and Hennigan both got about 36 percent of the vote and will compete in a runoff April 11.

"If the numbers were supposed to be consistent throughout, they should not have changed, and they did," Klick said. "So something is wrong."

Hamilton said she was unaware of the change.

Although Tarrant is the only county to report this type of tabulation problem so far, statewide candidates are watching the outcome of the disputed returns closely.

David Rogers, campaign manager for former Texas Supreme Court Justice Steve Smith, said Smith may ask for a recount in his race against Justice Don Willett. The campaign is also considering filing a suit challenging the results, he said.

Willett won by 5,000 votes -- or less than a percentage point statewide -- after Tarrant County's retabulation slashed Willett's local lead by about 13,000 votes. Without the Tarrant County numbers, the Smith campaign said, they would have won the race by about 3,000 votes.

"I sure would like some kind of explanation of what is going on," Rogers said.

State District Judge Frank Sullivan said he has already asked for a recount in his Republican primary race against challenger Nancy Berger.

Sullivan, a judge for 23 years, lost by 569 votes, according to the last cumulative report issued by the county. But the vote count went back and forth to the last minute.

"With a 23-year career going down the toilet, somebody ought to be able to say how many votes I got and how many the other side got," Sullivan said. "I'm not sure it will change anything, but I'd like to know what it is."

The elections computer programming was carried out by county election officials under the direction of Hart InterCivic, the company that manufactured the equipment and wrote the software for the local voting system. The system is designed to combine electronic early voting results with totals from paper ballots on election day.

It was a new system with new procedures, and because of a human programming error, the computer compounded previous vote totals each time the numbers were updated rather than keeping a simple running total, officials said.

"It is very unfortunate that the candidates and the parties are having to go through this," Hamilton said. "We take as much responsibility as Hart InterCivic."

Mike Kennedy, a Republican election judge, said he would like to see an independent inquiry conducted to determine exactly what went wrong Tuesday night. Saying he didn't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, Kennedy said a forensic review of the election results after a recount would possibly erase any doubts that someone tampered with the process.

"All levels of our government should have a transparency to them," he said.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Complexity causes 50 percent of product returns

If election officials in California and elsewhere decide to return their new voting equipment to manufacturers, they will be in good company. According to research by Elke den Ouden at the Technical University of Eindhoven, half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores are in full working order, but customers can't figure out how to operate the devices. Read more about her research in this article from Reuters. Excerpts are below.


Product complaints and returns are often caused by poor design, but companies frequently dismiss them as "nuisance calls," Elke den Ouden found in her thesis at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands.

A wave of versatile electronics gadgets has flooded the market in recent years, ranging from MP3 players and home cinema sets to media centers and wireless audio systems, but consumers still find it hard to install and use them, according to den Ouden.

She also found that the average consumer in the U.S. will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working before giving up.

Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created.

Den Ouden also gave new products to a group of managers from consumer electronics company Philips Electronics NV, asking them to use them over the weekend. The managers returned frustrated because they could not get the devices to work properly.

She said most of the flaws found their origin in the first phase of the design process -- product definition.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

From E-Voting to Paper Ballots in Piedmont, CA

Tuesday was a milestone in California's voting history. The city of Piedmont, located in Alameda County, used paper ballots in its municipal election. Piedmont was the first city in California to try out electronic voting machines, and Alameda was one of the first California counties to purchase e-voting machines. Thanks to a law enacted by the California Legislature in 2004, electronic voting machines must now produce a voter-verified paper audit trail to back up each electronic ballot. The new law took effect on January 1 of this year, and Alameda, like many counties, is struggling to figure out how they will comply with the paper trail requirement county-wide for the June primary.

In the meantime, Piedmont held its municipal election on paper ballots, and also tried out the Vote-PAD, an affordable and low-tech device that provides access for disabled voters. More details are featured in this article by Ian Hoffman for the Alameda Newspaper Group. Excerpts are below.


For elections, Alameda County is headed back to the future, and what that future looks like will play out today in the city of Piedmont.

After six years of electronic ballots, voters in Piedmont's municipal elections will be marking their choices on paper ballots, and so far that is the direction Alameda County is headed for the June primary.


California and many other states now require that voters have some form of paper printout to double-check their electronic vote and that elections officials use that paper for recounts.

But most voting machine makers did not adapt their touch screens for printers in time for use in elections this spring and early summer. So Piedmont is headed back to plain paper ballots, and so probably is Alameda, at least for the June elections.

Voters in Piedmont or anywhere in the county also will have a chance to experiment today with a new, low-tech variant designed for those with disabilities. It is a ballot-marking tablet called VotePad, with plastic pages and audio instructions to guide voters in marking their choices. Ellen Theisen, founder of VotersUnite, led the invention of VotePad as a simple, nontechnical answer to the demand and federal legal requirement for handicapped-accessible voting. Elections workers at the city community center and other polling places will be on hand to help voters try out the VotePad.

Acting Alameda County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold has been around long enough to see voting systems come full circle, from the old paper punch cards to paperless electronic voting and now back to optically scanned paper.
"I think there's a lot of irony in it," she said Monday. "It's very interesting that five years later we're here in this position without any electronic voting equipment."

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Making Democracy Transparent, by David Dill

In December 2002 I received an email out of the blue, from David Dill. It said:

"I'm a computer science professor at Stanford. I'm aghast that places are actually using DRE machines with no paper trail. I would like to see if I can help to ensure that new voting machines are auditable."

And help he has. In the three years since that time, David Dill has started Verified Voting, testified before Congress and all across the country, and helped to establish ACCURATE, a multi-university, multi-million dollar National Science Foundation-funded project to improve voting equipment. Dave and I served together on the California Secretary of State's 2003 Touch Screen Voting Task Force, and I was honored to share the Electronic Frontier Foundation's 2004 Pioneer Award with him.

One of the many things I admire about Dave is his ability to understand human nature and politics. I also admire his commitment to working on voting technology problems, which are complicated and at times frustrating. But the years of toil have given David Dill a clear vision of where we need to go, as he explains in this piece, recently published on and featured below.


Making Democracy Transparent

by David Dill

Public trust in our elections is eroding. While the general public still seems to accept election results, there is an undercurrent of bitterness that has grown tremendously over the last few years. There is a rapidly expanding body of literature on the Internet about the "stolen election of 2004," and several books on election fraud have recently been written. More are in the works.

Theories of widespread election fraud are highly debatable, to say the least. Some people enjoy that debate. I do not. It encourages a sense of hopelessness and consumes energy that could instead be focused on long-term changes that could give us elections we can trust.

The election fraud debate frames the problem incorrectly. The question should not be whether there is widespread election fraud. It should be: "Why should we trust the results of elections?" It's not good enough that election results be accurate. We have to know they are accurate - and we don't.

In a word, elections must be transparent. People must be able to assure themselves that the results are accurate through direct observation during the election and examination of evidence afterwards.

U.S. elections are far from transparent. Instead, winning candidates and election officials alike tend to put all their efforts into suppressing recounts. That attitude has led to increasing bitterness with each national election, at least since Florida 2000.

But we can conclusively win a debate about election transparency. And while making elections more transparent will be difficult, it is more feasible than solving many of our other national problems. All that is required for success is a long-term strategy and a commitment from many citizens at the grassroots level, since politicians and election officials are not going to solve the problems on their own.

Here are some initial thoughts on how we can do it. I propose a four part solution: We need to ensure that voting technology is transparent; election procedures need to be rethought to emphasize openness, security and checks and balances; election laws need to be revised to support these points and to make it easy for candidates to get reliable, manual recounts; finally, citizens need to participate in witnessing elections and making sure they are conducted properly.

Questions about voting technology have been in the spotlight in the last few years. The first concerns were about accuracy, inspired by the problems with punch cards in the 2000 election. The supposed solution to that problem lead to plans for the widespread adoption of paperless electronic voting. But paperless e-voting is totally opaque - no one can observe the handling of the (electronic) ballots. The hardware and software of modern computer systems are designed and built by thousands of specialists: Decades have passed since a single person could comprehend an entire computer system. As a result, there is no way to ensure that such voting systems are accurate or honest.

Right now, the only feasible solution to the insecurity of electronic voting is a universal requirement for voter-verified paper records of all ballots (VVPR). We also need to pass laws that enable candidates to obtain manual recounts easily and inexpensively. There is now a national movement to make sure this technology is used, and it's winning, slowly but surely. Since the 2004 election, state after state has passed laws requirement VVPRs, and others have required VVPRs by administrative decree. In most states, this is the result of grassroots activism by citizens groups with support from national groups. A recent example of an outstanding success is New Mexico's law requiring paper ballots, marked by the voters, which was signed March 2.

There remains much to do on the technology front, including converting hard-core e-voting states like Texas, Florida, and Georgia to VVPR (or, better, adopting a nationwide law, such as the one proposed by Rep. Rush Holt in the House or the one proposed by Sen. John Ensign). Also, the system for certifying voting technology at the state and national level is completely broken. But these problems can be solved with time and dedicated activism.

Election procedures need much greater attention, from the storage of equipment before an election to the storage of ballots after the last recount. Currently, inadequately tested voting machines break down on Election Day. Uncertified and sometimes buggy software is routinely used. Votes are counted behind closed doors. Machines and ballots are in the custody of a single individual, and are sometimes misplaced. Recounts are conducted with rules that are often made up on the spot.

Detailed election procedures need to be defined, taking into account the differences between jurisdictions (including differences in technology). These procedures need to be followed rigorously, even in remote locations with underfunded and understaffed election offices. Procedures need to be improved from election to election, and experiences with new procedures need to be shared among different election offices.

Many of the reforms in technology and procedures need to be codified in election law, including requiring VVPRs. There should be a law requiring the mandatory auditing of election results by manually counting paper ballots from a random sample of the precincts. Routine manual audits depoliticize recounts because they do not have to be requested by a candidate, and because they must occur regardless of whether an election is close or which candidate won. With routine audits, election problems can be discovered and addressed when the outcome of the election is not in dispute.

It is critical that candidates (or, even better, members of the public) be able to obtain manual recounts easily and inexpensively. In recent years, putative winners of close elections have often alluded the "chaos in Florida 2000" for the purpose of suppressing a recount. Recounts conducted under clear rules would not be so chaotic. It is simple common sense to take a close look at the ballots when there is a question about an election. A little cost or effort to satisfy a disgruntled candidate (and his or her supporters) pays huge dividends for democracy.

Finally, these improvements will have little effect unless citizens are more involved in elections. Citizens have to generate grassroots pressure for reforms. There need to be observers to take advantage of any increased openness in election procedures. Indeed, many procedural improvements depend on the presence of independent witnesses to be effective. Citizens need to be see what procedures are actually followed in an election, and compare that with the procedures that should be followed. We have seen time and time again that election laws are routinely ignored—unless someone is watching.

Many of our current problems stem from a "quick-fix" attitude - leading to fresh problems, such as the idea that new touch-screen machines would solve all our election woes. To have the kind of elections we need will take hard work and many years, and there will be setbacks along the way. But if we follow a long-term plan, we'll see that each election is better than the previous.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

More on the prosecution of Diebold law firm whistleblower

This week's LA Weekly features this article by Christine Pelisek about Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley's prosecution of Stephen Heller, the Jones Day employee who leaked Diebold's legal memos to the media and state authorities. Excerpts are featured below.


What would you call a well-meaning employee at a law firm handling Diebold's legal strategies who leaks key documents outlining problems with voting machines to the secretary of state and a newspaper reporter?

If you're Steve Cooley, L.A. County's district attorney, you'd call him a thief and charge him with three felonies. If you're an expert in a state law that protects employees who rat out potentially dangerous and illegal conduct, you'd call him a whistleblower.

"The issue is that he shouldn't have been charged at all," said Louis Clark, president of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit whistleblower protection organization in Washington, D.C. "It really is against public policy to bring felony charges against a whistleblower who is alleged to have brought forward information about election misconduct."

But Cooley did just that on February 21 when his office charged Stephen Heller, 44, with felony access to computer data, commercial burglary and receiving stolen property. The New York native could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

"This is basically a man who allegedly hacked into private files," said D.A. spokesperson Jane Robison. "We are alleging that he stole computer files. If you are an attorney you have every reason to believe that the information is guarded. Attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct."

Heller became the focus of the District Attorney's Office in 2004 after he allegedly gave the secretary of state and the Oakland Tribune memos the law firm Jones Day sent to its client, Diebold, outlining possible state elections law violations of its electronic voting machines.

Heller, an actor by trade, was working as a temporary word processor on a three-month contract with Jones Day when he came across the internal documents exposing irregularities in Diebold's electronic voting machines. He passed the documents along to an intermediary, who has not been identified, who placed them in the hands of Beverly Harris, the founder of a Seattle-based elections-watchdog group called Black Box Voting Inc. Harris then turned over the documents to Heller's intended recipients in Sacramento and Oakland.

The Diebold memos were published on the Tribune's Web site in April 2004, a month after voting irregularities surfaced in San Diego and Alameda counties by voters who were turned away at the polls while others had to use paper ballots.


Harris defends Heller's actions. "He was concerned that he was doing the right thing. If you are a good citizen, what are you supposed to do? Nothing?" said Harris. "If citizens don't stand up when there is something clearly wrong, then we are in deep trouble. We have to depend on our citizens to be responsible and that is what he did. They should be giving him a medal. This is an effort by big, powerful players who want to change the subject from what they did and they also want to discourage anyone else from telling what they know."

The state whistleblower law doesn't protect the employee from criminal prosecution. "There is nothing that can protect him from a prosecutor who decides to prosecute other than a jury and a judge," said Clark. "The district attorney can do something to Mr. Heller that perhaps Diebold couldn't do."

Robison said the District Attorney's Office is not alleging monetary gain.

"If there is no intention to profit from this then I think the charges are outrageous," said Clark. "I would be surprised if any member of the Legislature who put the law on the books had in mind someone who was taking information and making sure it went to government officials in order for them to look at whether a crime had been committed by a company."

Thursday, March 2, 2006

CA certification hearing draws e-voting critics

Yesterday I attended the Secretary of State's public hearing on certification of new voting equipment for California. There were about 80-100 people in attendance, many coming from outside of Sacramento. The crowd included activists, county election officials, vendors and reporters.

Prior to the hearing, a group of activists, many affiliated with the California Election Protection Network, held a rally criticizing Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's decision to certify voting equipment manufactured by Diebold. Once inside the meeting, however, the citizens who spoke up focused their remarks on general distrust of computerized voting systems. Several spoke out in favor of hand-counting paper ballots, and many expressed a lack of confidence in voting systems produced by private companies and utilizing proprietary software.

My comments focused on the draft procedures produced by the vendors, and specifically their descriptions (or lack thereof) of how the one percent manual count be conducted. I also expressed concern that the volume testing on Sequoia's Edge I and II touchscreen voting machines showed numerous problems with the voter activation cards, or "smart cards" used to call up the electronic ballots. During the meeting Bruce McDannold of the Secretary of State's staff explained these problems were due to the fact that the smart cards were preprogrammed before the volume test began. During my testimony I said that additional volume tests should be conducted to ensure the voter activation cards are working properly. I also expressed concern about the number of printer problems found in the Hart eSlate electronic voting machine found during volume testing, and said that it should not be certified until those problems are worked out.

For more news on the meeting, see Marianne Russ' story on Capitol Public Radio. Kevin Yamamura's Sacramento Bee article described the protest rally held by activists prior to the meeting as well as views expressed by registrars and disability rights activists. Ian Hoffman's Oakland Tribune article describes the problems discovered during testing and the pressure counties are under to plan for the upcoming June Primary. Excerpts from that story and the Sacramento Bee article are featured below.

(excerpts from Sacramento Bee article)

Dan Ashby's button asked, "Who did your voting machine vote for?" Michelle Gabriel held a sign accusing Secretary of State Bruce McPherson of flip-flopping on voting security procedures.
Other activists promoted the slogan, "Live Free or Diebold."

Electronic voting critics rallied Wednesday at McPherson's downtown headquarters to denounce his decision last month to certify Diebold machines for 2006 and testify against three other computer-based systems under review.

They charged that electronic voting machines are prone to hackers and testified they would prefer paper ballots.


Ashby, a San Pablo volunteer organizer with the California Election Protection Network, said he has no confidence in security procedures because he believes the Diebold machines have "too many attack pathways that can be overcome."

He said activists may pursue a lawsuit to stop them from being used.

McPherson's approval of Diebold came as he faced pressure to meet a 2006 federal Help America Vote Act requirements for upgrades in voting technology and accessibility. Many of the state's registrars said McPherson had delayed certification for too long, while the secretary of state said he wanted to conduct a thorough review process.


Warren Cushman, a Sacramento member of California Council for the Blind, said he considers new technology a positive step if it makes voting more accessible.

He took issue with activists who suggest that voting machine companies have curried favor with accessibility rights groups though donations, as one claimed during Wednesday's hearing.

"Our issue is voter accessibility, and when we're accused of being dupes, we have to disagree with that," Cushman said. "There has to be a respect issue because some folks are so wrapped up in their security issues that they forget about the right to vote for people with disabilities."

(excerpts from Oakland Tribune article)

As state officials race to evaluate voting machines for the June elections, critics complained Wednesday that the state was short-circuiting its own rules and putting substandard tools in the hands of voters.

The latest crop of machines are more accessible for disabled voters than ever before but still show significant errors in "volume testing" that simulates an election.

Testing 50 to 100 machines at a time has revealed problems — some minor, some major — with virtually every kind of voting system that vendors want to sell in the state, from common ballot jams and touchscreen errors to system crashes and the rare lost ballot.

In all but one case, in which 59 total errors arose on 100 Hart optical scanners, state elections staff is recommending Secretary of State Bruce McPherson approve the machines for voters, with detailed instructions for recalibrating and rebooting if problems occur on Election Day.


Congress made disabled access part of voting reforms passed under the Help America Vote Act following the 2000 presidential election. State legislatures in California and a dozen other states set the bar higher still by requiring printers on the ATM-like voting machines so voters could verify their choices and elections officials could have a paper record to recount.


Some county elections officials say the June primaries, now 96 days away, are too close to contemplate buying and training on a new voting system.

Alameda County, for example, is considering handing out paper ballots in the polling places while offering touchscreens possibly borrowed from San Diego County to voters with disabilities. San Mateo County is moving ahead with a 12-county proposal for a one-time, all-mail election in June. Failing necessary approval by the state Legislature, the county may accommodate voters with disabilities by setting up two dozen or so regional voting centers with Hart touchscreens, the remainder of voters to use optically scanned paper ballots.

"This is a tough time," said Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters Steve Weir. "We're way too close to this election."
Earlier in the day, federal civil-rights lawyers sued the state of New York for failing to acquire disabled-accessible voting machines and create a statewide voter-registration database, another requirement of the Help America Vote Act. Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that they "repeatedly urged" New York to work on the matter and that as of Jan. 1, the state was "not close to compliance with either provision."

California elections officials want to avoid the same fate. But the state is running into objections from voting-reform activists who say the rush risks sacrificing reliable, secure voting systems.

"There are many errors. It's just too many. You shouldn't certify it," Berkeley computer programmer Jerry Berkman told the state panel.

Critics said the machines' shortcomings will force elderly pollworkers to become computer experts and swap out printer rolls on the fly on Election Day.

"When you have machines that have to be recalibrated, rebooted with pollworkers who are 70, it's just clear these machines are not reliable," said Mary Beth Brangan of Bolinas. "I just think the answer to a lot of these problems is to get simpler, not more complex."

Disability advocates say accessibility has to be as important in new voting systems as reliability and security. "There is a solution," said Warren Cushman, a blind voter in Sacramento. "We just need to find a solution that works for everybody."

NM Governor to sign paper ballot bill today in live webcast

Paper ballots were the big talk of the day at yesterday's California voting equipment certification hearing. I'll have more to report on that later, along with links to news coverage.

Meanwhile, over in New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson is getting ready to sign a bill mandating paper ballots for his state in a live webcast. The event is being organized by his re-election campaign, and the webcast is supposed to be available from this page, starting at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern.

With the signing of the legislation, New Mexico becomes the 26th state to require paper ballots or voter-verified paper audit trails at the polls. This move also will reduce the number of paperless electronic voting machines used in the nation, since two-thirds of New Mexico's counties currently use this kind of voting equipment. Richardson is also calling on political leaders in other states to get on board. Below is an excerpt from his "Open Letter" to state officials. The full text is available from the link above.


On March 2, 2006, I will sign a bill that will transition New Mexico to an all paper-ballot system using optical scanners to count the vote. Paper ballots are the least expensive, most secure form of voting available. Having marked their votes with pen and paper, voters will walk out of the booth and know their voices have been heard. Optical scanners will quickly and accurately provide results, while in the event of a recount, the ballots themselves will be a permanent, verifiable record of the people’s directions to their government.

Some believe that computer touch screen machines are the future of electoral systems, but the technology simply fails to pass the test of reliability. As anyone who uses one can attest, computers break down, get viruses, lose information, and corrupt data. We know this to be the case, and so we back-up our files to ensure nothing important is lost. Paper ballots serve as the ultimate back-up for our elections, providing secure and permanent verification of the will of the people.

New Mexico has chosen paper ballots as the best system to secure our election process. With the new system in place, future elections will be secure, honest, and verifiable. Every vote will count and the citizens of our state will know that their government belongs to them.

One person, one vote is in jeopardy if we do not act boldly and immediately. American citizens once took for granted that every vote mattered, but no longer. It is time that we, the elected state officials, work to restore American’s confidence in our electoral systems and undertake reform that moves to eliminate skepticism and uncertainty.

When a vote is cast, a vote should be counted. With paper ballots we will have a record. With paper ballots the fundamental principle of one person, one vote is safe.